Josh Tomlin and Jason Vargas are two rarities in this new generation of baseball.
Neither hurler topped 90-mph on Saturday as Tomlin averaged 87.6-mph on his sinker while Vargas averaged 85.6-mph on his two-seam fastball. Despite the lack of velocity, the pitchers were collectively able to toss 13 innings of one-run ball with average exit velocities of 85.9-mph (Tomlin) and 84.4-mph (Vargas). In other words, the duo was able to properly locate their pitches and stay ahead in the count to induce weak contact from nearly every hitter in the game.
Then the hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera entered the contest in a high-leverage situation.
The transition from Vargas to Herrera is almost like the change from day to night. Herrera averaged 99.1-mph on his four-seam fastball but made a pair of location mistakes to average a whopping 100.7-mph exit velocity on three batted balls in play, two of which were barreled over the wall in right field to give the Indians a 3-1 lead in the pivotal ninth inning...
Result: Home run on a 2-0 fastball in the middle of the outer-third of the strike zone vs. Carlos Santana
Distance: 412 feet
Pitch Velocity: 98.4-mph
Exit Velocity: 106.5-mph
Hit Probability: 86%
Moments later, Francisco Lindor took advantage of another location mistake to belt his eighth bomb of the campaign...
Result: Home run on a 0-1 changeup in the middle of the lower-third of the strike zone vs. Francisco Lindor
Distance: 397 feet
Pitch Velocity: 91.8-mph
Exit Velocity: 99.5-mph
Hit Probability: 61%
This drastic change in velocity was certainly noticeable, but the location mistakes are what made the true difference. Four of the five runs Herrera has given up this year have been home runs, proving that he is prone to make mistakes out over the middle of the plate.
While triple-digit velocities are effective in throwing off the timing of hitters, the location of those pitches is just as meaningful and valuable. For Herrera to be an even better closer, he will need to work on both location and velocity if he wants to retire hitters like Santana and Lindor.
Not only was the Tribe able to adjust to the change in pitch speed, but they were also able to capitalize on two game-changing mistakes.
Herrera may be able to get away with these kind of miscues against some of the weaker offenses in baseball. Unfortunately, he took on the defending American League champions with the game on the line.